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The Mystery of Christ
Chapter 3 is actually a sort of parenthesis. You will understand what I mean by that if you compare Eph 3:1 of this chapter with the first verse of chapter 4 (Eph 4:1). After having written about God’s counsels in chapter 1 and about the way God made us partakers of them, you might expect that Paul is going to tell us now what that means for your practice, your walk.
It looks like he wanted to start with that in chapter 3. Yet, that only happens in chapter 4. There he starts with nearly the same words with which he starts chapter 3, and then the admonitions follow which belong to his teachings he gave in chapter 2.
Yet the Holy Spirit leads him, however, to first write chapter 3. Why? To explain that to him, Paul, was entrusted this particular service to make known “the mystery of Christ” (Eph 3:4). That mystery was not an idea or invention of his own, but it was revealed by God (Eph 3:3). This mystery is about the fact that Jew and Gentile together form the church and that they are connected to Christ as one body. The difference between Jew and Gentile has disappeared.
Eph 3:1. He starts with “I, Paul” and thereby stresses the absolutely unique truth that was only revealed to him. He was the first man, who was made aware of this by God. It also stresses the apostolic authority with which he now passes on this revelation. What Paul is teaching is totally apart from what the Jews read in the Old Testament. That is right indeed, as we cannot find there the things we saw in chapters 1-2.
The preaching of this truth has made him a “prisoner”. That’s why he writes that he was a prisoner “for the sake of you Gentiles”. When he spoke of God wanting him to go to the Gentiles in Acts 22, the Jews went furious and wanted to kill him (Acts 22:21-23). That did not happen, but the whole story (to be read in Acts 23-28) ends with him being held prisoner in Rome. Yet he does not regard himself as a prisoner of Caesar, but as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus”.
What we can learn from this is, that whatever happens in our lives, we can see everything in relation to the Lord Jesus. That will protect us against bitterness. Then we shall indeed be able to cope with disappointments. Paul could have been mourning about not being active anymore for his Lord. But what do you see? Exactly in his imprisonment he writes some letters we read in the Bible. The letter to the Ephesians is one of them.
Eph 3:2. Paul stayed for three years in Ephesus (Acts 20:31). In that time the Ephesians became familiar with “the stewardship” that was entrusted to Paul. The word ‘stewardship’ is derived from the word economist (literally: a householder). An example of such a person is Joseph, who was the manager of ‘the house(hold)’ of Potiphar and to whom all persons and goods of Potiphar’s house were entrusted.
This fact associates with the previous chapter, in which the household of God is being spoken about. To Paul God entrusted the goods of that household, the wonderful truths of that household. He is allowed to present the goods of God’s house in their glory to those who were members of that household. Paul is very impressed by that.
His amazing service, however, doesn’t make him proud. He points out that this service that was given to him for the sake of the church, flows forth from “God’s grace”. Also the whole content of what is entrusted to him consists of this grace. It is important to continuously be aware of this if you may do something for the Lord. You may do it because you know His grace; this grace is also what you pass on to others in your service.
Eph 3:3. “The mystery” that God made known to Paul “by revelation”, was still hidden in the Old Testament. There are two conceivable misconceptions concerning this mystery. The first one is to assume that it was secretly present in the Scriptures of the Old Testament and was now instructed to Paul by the Holy Spirit where to find it. But that is not right. It was not something that was hidden in the Old Testament. Secrecy here literally means ‘mystery’. It was unknown to the greatest prophet. He could never ever have discovered it.
The second misconception is to assume that it is also for us still a mystery. It we think that, we ignore the revelation of it. It is often also an excuse not to deepen yourself too much in this matter, for it is not possible to understand it; it is a mystery after all. Sometimes even 1 Corinthians 2:9 is being referred to (1Cor 2:9), while the next verse (1Cor 2:10) is being ignored for convenience’s sake.
It is really true that on the one hand it is something that was hidden in God from eternity (Eph 3:9) and on the other hand it is now made known, first to Paul and afterwards through him to you and me and every other member of the church! Paul “wrote before in brief” about this. He is referring here to what he wrote in the previous chapters about this.
Eph 3:4. He presents what he just said to the readers to consider. They could conclude that he writes as one who is fully informed. It sounds easy, but you can only form a view of what Paul writes, when you read what he writes. That is what he says to the Ephesians, and also to us. Reading therefore means more than just to see letters only. Reading is receiving the message, trying to understand what the writer says. In this case a right spiritual mind is an absolute condition. Beware: it is not about an intellectual capacity, but about a heart that desires to receive and understand the mystery (Eph 1:17-18).
It is about nothing less than the “mystery of Christ”. You might have expected that he is now going to speak about the ‘mystery of the church’ as that is the subject here. After all it is about the particular character of the church wherein Jew and Gentile have been made one. Yet that doesn’t happen and Paul writes about ‘the mystery of the Christ’, as it is literally written.
In fact this detail shows us the core of the mystery. It is not only that the believers from the Jews and Gentiles are related to each other, but that they have been made one body. The issue is the unity between the Head in heaven and the members on earth.
God had the purpose to unite us together, but above all to unite us with the Head. It was His plan to give a body to Christ. In chapter 5 we see another picture of that mystery: “This is a great mystery, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32). So when ‘the Christ’ is spoken of, then it is because God wants to have all emphasis on Him.
You and I consent to that heartily! It is about Him.
Now read Ephesians 3:1-4 again.
Reflection: What does the ‘stewardship’ of Paul mean and what is ‘the mystery’?
Fellow Heirs, Fellow Members, Fellow Partakers
Eph 3:5. The mystery of the church was not revealed in the time of the Old Testament. It was not only unknown to the people of Israel, but “to the sons of men”. How privileged Israel was in whatever God had made known of Himself to them, yet the church was not mentioned in those communications. Not to a single man, Jew or Gentile, God mentioned anything about this. It was really a secret.
But that secret has now been revealed to all ‘saints and faithful in Christ Jesus’ (Eph 1:1). To all unbelievers it is still a mystery, and unfortunately also to all believers who are not interested in these things. This lack of interest can be caused by indifference, but also by a wrong conception of the position of the believer on earth. He who thinks that the greatest mission for the Christian is ‘to improve the world’, will not manage to discover the real Christian life. That real life is to show on earth that all his interests are in heaven, because Christ with Whom he is made one, is there.
There is another significant aspect regarding the fact that the church was not made known in the Old Testament. That is the fact that something like a ‘church since Adam’ can’t exist. God kept silent about the church in the Old Testament. In Matthew 16 the Lord Jesus breaks this silence when He says: “Upon this rock I will build My church” (Mt 16:18). This is the first time that this mystery is spoken about.
The Lord Jesus also uses the future tense: ‘will … build’. In order to build His church He had to die, arise, ascend to heaven and send from there the Holy Spirit. Through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a happening that is mentioned in Acts 2:1-4, the church is ‘baptized to one body’ (1Cor 12:13). Those who were present at this happening did not realize that that was the beginning of the church.
The meaning of the church, what God’s thoughts are about her and the way He works out His thoughts, He revealed to Paul. Only in the letters of Paul you will find teachings about the church. For this reason he is especially set apart, one of those “holy apostles and prophets” of Jesus Christ.
Eph 3:6. What that mystery means, is described in Eph 3:6. There are three phrases that are used here and of which none of them is found in the Old Testament: “fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers”. It is about this completely new phenomenon, that the Gentiles and the Jews together (which is the meaning of ‘fellow’ here) have become
2. one body and
of the promise in Christ Jesus.
In a certain way blessing was also promised to the nations in the Old Testament, but only via Israel, that remained a separate nation. Also in the future, in the millennial kingdom, when all the blessings that God made shall be reality for both Israel and the nations, Israel will remain a separate nation. That the nations would be fellow heirs and members of the same body, in which every difference between Jews and other nations has disappeared, that was hidden until the moment that God revealed it to Paul.
How does the mystery of the church actually rise above what has been given to Israel? First, because believers from Jews and Gentiles are related as “fellow heirs” to Him Who shall reign over ‘all things which are in heaven and which are on earth’ (Eph 1:10). This amazing inheritance goes far beyond what Israel will possess, as a separate nation in the future.
You can be heirs together, but yet have no further relation with each other. The Jewish believer and the Gentile believer, however, are not separated anymore from each other. The words “fellow members of the body” indicate a connection that cannot be described more intimately. It means that the believers from the nations now belong to the same body together with the Jewish believers: they form one body together.
This second “fellow” goes further than the first “fellow”. It was quite understandable for the Jew to share an inheritance, but to be made one body with the Gentiles is beyond his understanding.
The third “fellow” regards the being partakers of “the promise in Christ Jesus” of both Jew and Gentile. The question is what promise is meant here. It is not about any promise that God has made in the Old Testament. Since we are aware of what Eph 3:5 says, it is about a promise that was formerly hidden in God. But isn’t a promise something you make to a person? Yes, that’s right, and I think that Titus 1:2 can be a help to the question. There you read about “eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago” (Tit 1:2) i.e. before time began.
So when yet there was no man, God already made a promise, but to whom? It cannot be about anything else than the promise that the Father made to His Son, the eternal Son. This promise is the eternal life. Although Titus 1 is not about Christ and the church, but about what God promised to every single believer, the character of the promise is still applicable to the church.
The accomplishment of this promise could only happen when the Lord Jesus was on earth and accomplished the work that the Father wanted Him to do (Jn 17:1-4). Only then could God accomplish “the promise of life in Christ Jesus” (2Tim 1:1) by giving this life to all who are related to Him. The eternal life is the part of everyone who belongs to the church. Because of being partakers of this promise, we are capable of enjoying the blessings of the other two things we share.
Also this promise goes beyond all the promises that were made to Israel, literarily as well as spiritually. The promises to Israel have to do with life and material blessings here on earth. The ‘promise in Christ Jesus’ is in accordance with the eternal life and the spiritual blessings in heaven.
All the glorious aspects that were embedded in ‘the mystery of the Christ’ (Eph 3:4), have come to us “through the gospel”. That is the way through which God has revealed to us all the riches of Christ.
Eph 3:7. Paul became a servant of the gospel; he preached the gospel and in that way made known the mystery. He doesn’t boast about it. He is aware that he received it by God’s grace. The content of his preaching, the enormous riches of it, the way he serves, are all through the grace of God only.
Who is capable to measure God’s grace? Nobody indeed! That’s why nobody is capable of measuring the content of the gospel that Paul brings here. Paul considers this a task for which he himself has no power. But God gives him the possibility to fulfill his service “according to the working of His power”.
The grace of God is the source from which everything comes. We have seen that already and we shall see that more. Only by the power of God Who made Paul capable to preach this rich gospel, have we also become partakers.
Now read Ephesians 3:5-7 again.
Reflection: Which differences came forward in these verses between the blessings for Israel and that of the church?
The Unfathomable Riches of Christ
Eph 3:8. It is striking to see how Paul speaks of himself here, seen in the light of this letter. This is a letter of contrasts. First, man is pictured in his absolute corruption (Eph 2:1-3). Opposite to that you have seen how the man in Christ has received a tremendously high position. This contrast you also see in picture in the ministry of Paul. Formerly he was a persecutor of the church and therefore of the Lord. And exactly this man, who destroyed the church, received grace to proclaim the unfathomable riches among the Gentiles. That’s why he calls himself “the very least of all the saints”.
It has such a great impact on him when he thinks of the content of the message he is allowed to proclaim, that it causes him to call himself that way. This is the attitude that suits everyone who is given a task from the Lord (and who doesn’t have that?). Everything we understand of the truth should make us think less and less about ourselves.
When it is about this glorious ministry that was given to him, he compares himself with “all saints”. To them this letter indeed is addressed (Eph 1:1) and to them he announces all this wonderful news. But he doesn’t put himself above them, but on the contrary, below them. Paul has this attitude all the time. When he compares himself with other apostles, he calls himself “the least of the apostles” (1Cor 15:9). When he compares himself with the sinners he says “among whom I am foremost [of all]” (1Tim 1:15). The truth which he is allowed to proclaim has an influence on his attitude. That we understand the truth should be a matter of our heart and then we shall also see our littleness. When only knowledge counts, we will be puffed up (1Cor 8:1).
Paul feels his littleness when he sees the huge size of his ministry (“the Gentiles”) and the all surpassing content (“the unfathomable riches of Christ”). He, and no one else, receives the order to preach (literarily: to evangelize) things that are so rich, that they could never be fully searched by anyone. Here also it is about the Christ again, which means: Christ together with His church.
Eph 3:9. Through the proclamation of such lofty things it became clear (“to bring to light”) what was hidden in God till then. About the words ‘stewardship’ and ‘mystery’, I have already said something in the study of the Eph 3:2-3 of this chapter, where these words also appear. By practicing his ministry, Paul fulfills his stewardship. To him God entrusted what He kept for Himself before: a mystery that only the three Persons of the Godhead knew. The moment then came that God came out with His counsels. Paul was the instrument that God had chosen to make known His mystery.
The purpose of this revelation is said in Eph 3:10, but first one more thing of God is said, which must not be overlooked. That is the expression “God who created all things”. How can Paul refer here suddenly to the creation, while he is dealing with so many heavenly and eternal things? Surely, our feet are still on the earth, but until now this letter is about our position in heavenly places and our blessings in and with Christ, isn’t it? That is also true, but just because our feet are still in the first, old creation, we still have everything to do with it.
The will of God is that His counsels, that all relate to something totally new that has been realized outside the old creation, will be made visible in this old creation. God has created all things to be of service, as a platform, to display what was hidden in Him.
He could have taken away the old and introduce the new. He also could have placed the new next to the old. He could have shaped the old to the new. He didn’t do anything of that. He uses the old to make visible the totally new, that is Christ and the church as perfectly united together.
Eph 3:10. And that is not just later, when chapter 1:10 (Eph 1:10) will be fulfilled, but already “now”. God had revealed Himself in the past in certain ways. He did that in the creation (Rom 1:20). Yet He didn’t fully reveal Himself in it. What we see in it, is His creation wisdom. The angels have seen that wisdom and have rejoiced in it (Job 38:7). They also saw that God created men, that man enjoyed the special attention of God and that He went His ways with man. They saw it and admired how God dealt with man that became rebellious.
But now that same God showed something that first was not known. He will submit everything to a Man in future. But the Man to Whom He submits that, is new, as that Man is Christ and the church. This was hidden in God’s heart, but is being made known to the angels through the existence of the church.
The good and evil angelic powers (“the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly [places]”) have no words for what they see of wisdom, when they look at the church. This wisdom is so unique, that it exceeds all other wisdom. This wisdom is completely new and not just in a new phase of unfolding His wisdom. It is “the manifold wisdom of God”, which means a wisdom in every possible glorious aspects. And that wisdom is seen in those who form the church together, not what they are of themselves, but what God has made of them.
That God is almighty and sovereign was known by the angels. If God wanted to put man above angels, He was free to do that. But the way God does that, reveals His wisdom and that is the issue here. He does not only deal in omnipotence, but He does that in a fully righteous way and in accordance with all that He is in Himself: the perfect revelation of love and of light. When He deals like that with the church, it doesn’t mean that He is unfair against one of His other creatures or in contradiction with something that is in Him.
Angels had a higher place in the creation than men. Is it not unfair then that He now has given insignificant creatures that were disobedient to God and in addition to that brought the Creator to the cross, a place above angels that have always served Him faithfully and have never done anything against Him? No, for the work that was necessary to do that, is done by a Man, Jesus Christ, on the cross of Calvary. There He has revealed that God is light and love.
He has shown God’s hatred against sin and His love for the sinner in all its aspects. He has restored there everything that was destroyed by the work of satan and his angels. He opened the way for God, so He could fulfill His counsels. God rewarded Him for that by giving Him a place above everything, and there He made the church one with Him (Eph 1:20-23). The angels see that and recognize in this God’s manifold wisdom.
Now read Ephesians 3:8-10 again.
Reflection: Why is the church now on earth?
Boldness and Access
Eph 3:11. What Paul presented in the previous verses, what was highlighted by him, was in God’s heart from eternity. I mean by that, the time before creation, that you actually cannot call ‘time’, for in eternity every notion of time is missing. Eternity is timeless. God stands outside and above time. We now know something as time because God has created it. That you can read in Genesis 1.
Before creation, there was already a purpose of God regarding the church. When the time started, God did not make known this “eternal purpose” right away. He hasn’t spoken about it in a prophecy anywhere or given a promise about it to people on earth. About this eternal purpose we also read in chapter 1 of this letter (Eph 1:4; 11). There it is about our personal blessings. Here it is about our blessings as the church, that all believers have received together.
But whatever blessing is regarded, it is never apart from the Lord Jesus. God has “carried out” this eternal purpose “in Christ Jesus our Lord”. He is the center of it. It speaks of the wonderful pleasure that God has had in His Son from eternity. That pleasure has got an extra reason through the life and death of the Son of God Who became Man (Jn 10:17; Mt 3:17). Everything that God purposes and does, points at His Son.
The Son is mentioned here by His extended name:
1. He is the “Christ”, that means ‘the Anointed’, the Man of God’s pleasure, in Whom God finds His joy.
2. He is “Jesus”, the humble Man Who perfectly lived on earth to God’s glory and Who accomplished His work.
3. He is also “our Lord”, the Person to Whom we submit ourselves completely with pleasure, acknowledging His authority over our lives.
He, who knows Him, heartily agrees with God’s eternal purpose to make Him the Center of the universe and eternity.
Eph 3:12. The previous verse is not unfolded for ‘the enlightened eyes of your heart’ (Eph 1:18) just to admire, how superb it all might be. It invites to boldly stand in these blessings. That means that you may feel at home in the presence of the Father. Just think about what the basis is for this boldness.
Until now you could have admired the amazing counsels of God. You were impressed that God has allowed you to glimpse into the mysteries of His heart that were there from eternity, and that He also made this known to you. It is all so great that it would make you become so shy that you would not even dare to put one foot on that holy ground. But what did you indeed also see? That the Center of all those counsels of God is ‘Christ Jesus our Lord’. If you would be too timid to put your feet on those counsels, then you may think: the center of all this is our Lord, isn’t it?
Before there was time, before the angels fell into sin, before man fell into sin, He was already the Center. When sin came into the world, He came and solved the huge problem of sin. You entrusted yourself to Him. He is the One, Who came on earth for you and Who died for you, not only to redeem you from your sins, but also to give you these wonderful blessings. Of these blessings He is the Center.
Then you don’t have to feel timid to stand in those blessings and to enjoy them. You can move and express yourself freely in them. “Boldness” means something like having a free conscience to say everything that is in your heart. Without any burden in your heart you can stay there and fully enjoy.
But even if you have the boldness now, it would not help you if you didn’t have access to those blessings. That is what the second part of this verse makes clear. You have the “access” and that even “confident access”. God took away all hindrances. The access is free. You have confidence that God loves to see you in His presence. It is not the case that He just tolerates you in His presence, but He really loves to have you with Him, as the basis is “through faith in Him”.
You might be thinking here that it is about the faith in the Lord Jesus as your Savior. That surely has to do with it, but I think it goes a step further. It is about the faith in Him, in Whom God has achieved His eternal purpose, that is Christ Jesus our Lord. Surely He is the One Who went to the cross to die there for your sins and in that way give you access to God (Rom 5:1-2). But in the letter to the Ephesians you see Him as the Center of all the counsels of God. If you have learnt to know Him like that and accepted Him through faith like that, then you can enter God’s presence in full confidence to admire Him and worship Him for everything He had in mind for the church from eternity.
That you may belong to the church, you owe to the work that Christ has accomplished on the cross. On the cross the perfect dedication and glorification of God have reached their peak and crowning. On this basis God shall achieve His plans. That you, as a member of God’s church, are involved in those plans, is a miracle of grace that is worthy of all worship.
Eph 3:13. Since He has paid the price to give you all this, then you should “not lose heart” at tribulations. In the previous verse your relationship with God is presented. In this verse you see how you are related to the world. To God you have boldness, access and confidence. From the world you may face tribulations. Even if you don’t understand why you have tribulations, you can accept through your confidence in Him that there is wisdom and love behind them. You trust that everything is just for your own good. To Paul that was the case.
The word “therefore” with which this verse begins, refers to the previous one and gives the reason to the question. God could have liberated him from his imprisonment as He liberated Peter (Acts 12:7-11), but He did not. What did the Lord do? He was with Paul, helped him and gave him insight of everything that we now have in his letters.
The imprisonment, apparently the end of his ministry, became the crown of his work, the entire fulfillment of his stewardship. The reason that Paul was imprisoned and had tribulations there, was because of the truth he brought to the Ephesians. They shouldn’t be discouraged by his imprisonment, but rather encouraged. To be related to a heavenly Christ and to live consistently according to that relationship, just creates hostility from religious people who adhere to an earthly or carnal religion.
Paul is not busy with his own situation. He is worried that all the wonderful truths would not have effect in the lives of the believers in Ephesus, because of his imprisonment. They could have been thinking: ‘We are not willing to pay that price.’ That’s why Paul points out to them that he was imprisoned just because of the practice of his stewardship that consisted of the proclamation of the ‘unfathomable riches of Christ among the Gentiles’, to which the Ephesians also belonged. The tribulations were not an addition, but they go wholly together with the proclamation of the truth. To him, tribulations were the earthly counterpart of the heavenly glory.
The Christian who is aware of that will look at the tribulations that arise, as a privilege and a glory, because of his relation with a heavenly Lord.
Now read Ephesians 3:11-13 again.
Reflection: What are your privileges with regard to your connection with God and what is the consequence of that for your connection with the world?
Second Prayer (I)
Eph 3:14. The great truths that Paul has been able to present till here also fill his own heart. Overwhelmed by all that he received from God, he falls on his knees before “the Father” of our Lord Jesus Christ. In chapter 1 he already went into prayer to God. There he focused on “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:17). I already clarified the distinction between ‘the God of’ and ‘the Father of’ in the study of chapter 1:3.
In chapter 1 Paul prays that the Ephesians would also learn to understand and enjoy the riches that he has described. He surely could write to them that they were blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places, but he didn’t have the ability to make them capable of making those blessings their own and also to enjoy them. ‘The God of our Lord Jesus Christ’ had to make them capable for that. That’s why he lifts up his eyes to Him and asks if He will grant them ‘the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened’.
The blessings Paul speaks about here are the possessions of every believer individually. It’s wonderful to see how Paul commits himself to make them aware of these blessings and that they enjoy them. For him it is not a matter of delivering a message and going further afterwards. He wants what he has passed on, to ‘arrive’ in the hearts of the believers.
Although it is hard to understand some things, he is very decided not to adjust his message. That is still often the tendency in Christianity today. The message becomes a product that is being adjusted to the desires of the ‘client’. But when Paul proclaims the Word, he does that as it is given to him and simultaneously he asks his Sender, in Whose Name he preaches, if he would work out that the Word that has been preached, would also be understood. This example should be followed by every preacher.
Paul was certainly aware of the needs of his ‘audience’. He knew that he could not write the contents of the letter to the Ephesians to the believers in Corinth for example. They were not ready to receive this message yet, because they were fleshly-minded. That he could tell the Ephesians about the tremendous blessings – to the individual believer and to the church – doesn’t mean that they were able to understand all this on their own. It is actually not about intellectual capacities, a great intelligence, but about the heart. When it is understood with the heart, it will have its effect in life. It is Paul’s desire that this happens and he prays for that, in chapter 1 as well as in chapter 3.
The motive for his prayer here is what he said in the previous part. The essence of that is the “unfathomable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8). This is what he means by “for this reason”. It is his desire that the believers will also understand the blessings they have received collectively, as the church, besides their personal blessings. The blessings of the church are perhaps even greater than those of the individual believers.
An example may clarify this. You can throw a big number of stones on one stack, but you can also build a house of those stones. In both cases you have the same number of stones, but when a house is built of it, that stack of stones has an enormous added value.
That is also the case with the church. All who know the Lord Jesus are living stones, because they have Him as their life. But they represent more. Together they are the house of God, that is the church of the living God (1Tim 3:15; 1Pet 2:5). The same goes for the church as a body. Every believer is a member of that body. They are not members who each live for themselves. Together they are the body of Christ. Of that body He is the Head. Paul just told about the wonderful blessings that are connected to it.
Here also he is aware of his incapacity to make them capable to take the blessings with their heart and to enjoy them. For that he starts to pray. He is now praying to ‘the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ because the following part is about the Lord Jesus, Who, as the eternal Son, is the Center of all God’s purposes. In chapter 1 he wanted the believers to be aware of all that God had done for them through Christ. Now he desires that the believers will be aware of what the Father works in them through His Spirit.
Eph 3:15. The glory of the Father is very great. It reflects from all families that finally will fill the heavens and the earth. All those families are named after Him because they come forth from Him. He is the ‘Author’ of it. He gave them all a place in His plans.
These families can be families of angels and all sorts of families of people, both Jews and Gentiles. Not that all families call Him Father. That is only applicable for those who became His children by faith in the Lord Jesus. We are brought to that intimate relationship. The Lord Jesus is the Son of the Father from eternity. That’s why He also – in a way – is the Head of those various families. The church, however, is directly related to Him. All who belong to it are the family of God in a special way. That will be expressed in the most wonderful way when we soon enter the Father’s house to stay there forever with the Father and the Son (Jn 14:1-3).
Eph 3:16. Here Paul is asking the Father to work in accordance with His glory in the believers “through His Spirit”. They have the Spirit as a guarantee (Eph 1:13). It is also only possible through the Spirit “to be strengthened with power … in the inner man”. Something must happen in the believer and not only with or for him.
By “the inner man” are meant the mind and the sense of man, his considerations, everything that is not visible (cf. 1Cor 2:11). What Paul desires, is that the Spirit of the Father gets the opportunity to fill up that whole ‘area’ with His power. Wouldn’t that be wonderful if you and I would pray that for each other? And what a consequence it would have!
Eph 3:17. “So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Oh, may that happen to us, yes, to each child of God. Paul desires that Christ will continuously be the predominating Center of your deepest emotions and affections. That is only possible ‘through faith’ which means that this place is given to Him in full confidence. Through faith you focus with all you have on Him.
Also in your life He would be the Center, as He eternally was and is and will be to the Father. Then Christ is not ‘just visiting’ you, a temporary Guest, but He can ‘dwell’, which also means that He finds rest there. About this ‘dwelling’ the Lord makes a wonderful remark in John 14 (Jn 14:23).
Inseparably linked with this, is “love”, which is the true embedding of the previous. God is love. His love is the origin of all His counsels. He, who has his roots in the Divine love (“rooted”), extracts from there the juices for life; he has this love as the foundation for his life (“grounded”), and is capable of enjoying all the glories that Paul has summarized. In the following verses we will have a further look at that.
Now read Ephesians 3:14-17 again.
Reflection: How can it be realized that Christ dwells in your heart through faith?
Second Prayer (II)
Eph 3:18. The word “may” indicates a desire, which is connected to what is previously said. Paul prayed in Eph 3:17 that Christ may dwell in their heart through faith. He also drew the atmosphere of this dwelling by pointing at being rooted and grounded in love. When faith and love work this way, then believers can “comprehend” and “know” the things that follow.
This is an important principle for Bible study. Intelligence is not the main thing, but the fact that the Center of God’s counsels lives in our hearts. Bible study without having Christ as the Center, and without it being embedded with love, results in knowledge that makes a person puffed up with pride. That’s why this prayer is so important. Being ‘capable’ is not a question of intelligence, a certain rational capacity, but a spiritual capacity to comprehend the following things. These things have to do with all the counsels of God that especially have been brought forward in chapter 1.
In this second prayer Paul connects those counsels in a very special way with Christ Who is the Center of them. If you want to understand this, you cannot act on your own. You will need “all the saints”. That is also logical. The manifoldness of all those counsels and the boundlessness of Christ’s love are only to be known by pondering over together and sharing these things with each other. In order to have a most complete picture of God’s counsels and of the love of Christ, each saint is necessary. How could you or I, limited creatures as we are, be able to understand such glory?
The glory of God’s counsels and of Christ as the Center of it, have an incalculable outreach:
1. Try to think about the “breadth” of it. That includes all the saints from the Day of Pentecost until the rapture of the church.
2. Then the “length” of it – that is from eternity to eternity.
3. Just look up, in the “height”. There you see Christ, above all principalities and powers, and His church united with Him.
4. Just look down, in the “depth”. In those depths you were lying, lost in your sins. But Christ went deeper, picked you up and placed you and me and all who belong to the church in the height, in the Father’s House, to the heart of the Father.
Eph 3:19. Christ did that all, driven by a perfect love for His Father, for the church and for each member of the church separately (cf. Exo 21:5). Above all, His love shines in His work on the cross.
It is a profound desire of Paul that we learn to know this love better and better. At the same time he says that it is actually impossible to know that love. How could that eternal, Divine love be fully begirded by the heart of a man? Is that discouraging? No, it is challenging! Who would not want to penetrate into a love which can never be fully fathomed?
I will clarify this by the following and often used example. A child stands at the ocean with his small bucket. He scoops water in it and says, ‘Hey look, I have the ocean in my bucket.’ This will be the desire of every heart that knows Him, in Whom that perfect love of God has become visible, to be filled with that love completely.
The result is that “you may be filled up to all the fullness of God”. As it is said, it is not possible for a creature to be filled with the whole fullness of God. If we, however, stretch ourselves to know the love of Christ more and more, we will grow more and more in that direction. Then we will be back at the beginning. After all, it all began with all the fullness of God, right? Through Christ we have all received of that fullness, and grace upon grace (Jn 1:16). In Christ that fullness appeared on earth: “For it was the [Father’s] good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him” (Col 1:19).
To ‘be filled with all the fullness of God’ – that is the final purpose of Paul’s prayer – therefore means that we are fully focused on Christ, and that our hearts and lives are full of Him. You can sense that there is no lower purpose. At the same time you might also sense how hard it is to realize that in the world we live. There are so many things around you that want your attention and of which you sometimes have to give attention to.
Eph 3:20. That’s why the content of Eph 3:20 is such a great encouragement. In any case it is a wonderful verse. You can apply it in every practical situation, but the main intention is that you understand the context in which this verse is used. Then you get the true meaning that is above the application to our daily needs. You will desire that the content of this prayer will become true in your life.
It will be clear that it is all about that and not about something that only happens in heaven. There we don’t need prayers anymore. No, on earth this prayer is truly necessary. On earth you are aware of your shortcomings and you doubt sometimes if you will succeed. In this way your eyes are being focused on Him Who is able to realize it in your life. Then you will pray for that. Again you look up, to Him Who is capable of answering your prayer.
Sometimes you don’t even pray and you only think how wonderful it would be if your life would be filled with Christ and His love. Then you look up again. Then you see Him, Who knows your thinking and Who is able to fulfill your desires.
It is already amazing to look up to Him Who knows your praying and thinking and replies to it, but it goes much further. He “is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think”. Everything is exceedingly abundant and goes beyond whatever a man can pray or think. That suits completely to the way in which God is presented in this letter, namely as the Source of all blessing. God doesn’t give in dribs and drabs. When He gives of His fullness, there is no limit. In praying for and thinking about God’s counsels, you sink in it.
Having arrived at this point, Paul only addresses the believers. He involves himself in it and says “we”. He also senses that he is dependent on “the power that works within us” for the realization of that. By that he points back to the beginning of his prayer, Eph 3:16. The Spirit of the Father can work that the things you pray for and about which you think, can be fully effective in your life.
Eph 3:21. This glory of God has been fully unfolded by Paul. That glory has become visible in God’s counsel in respect to the church, while Christ is the Center of it. Overseeing all this, only one thing is left and that is to praise the Father of glory and say to Him that He is worthy to receive all glory.
What is visible to only a few and is shown by just a few today will be seen through all eternity. All generations of all ages will worship and adore that glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.
Paul closes this praise, this special prayer with a suitable “amen”. He confirms the content by that: so it is.
Now read Ephesians 3:18-21 again.
Reflection: Pray that you may learn to know the love of Christ as it is presented in this prayer.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Ephesians 3". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14